What are the Dodgers going to do about their starting pitching?

It’s hard to keep up with all the roster moves the Dodgers made in 2016. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with all the moves Andrew Friedman haw made since he took over, period.

Still, when I wrote about resetting the 40-man roster, I noticed something: The Dodgers have an inordinate amount of starting pitching.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it was all good starting pitching, and while they got starts from 15 players in 2016, not all 15 of those players will be back with the Dodgers. Here’s every starting pitcher the Dodgers have under contract before the offseason actually begins:

That’s 10 starting pitchers. Ten guys who are capable of starting in an MLB rotation tomorrow (well, maybe not Ryu … sigh). People point at the rotation and scream for an upgrade, but how would Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and company do that? Let’s take a look.

Not Going Anywhere: Kershaw, Ryu, Urias

There’s zero chance Kershaw is getting traded, and if Urias gets traded, the return would have to be astronomical anyway. Ryu is a bit different from them in that he’s making just $7 million over the next two seasons, but he has undergone more medical procedures on his left arm (shoulder, elbow) than he has starts in the last two years (one). If he does manage to come back, it’ll be with the Dodgers still at a bargain rate.

Cheap & Productive Arms: De Leon, Stewart, Stripling

These guys will all be making the Major League minimum for the next couple seasons, and all could, conceivably, get starts next season. But just because they’re cheap doesn’t mean the Dodgers would hesitate to include them in an offseason deal, potentially for a rotation upgrade. Additionally, all of them are capable of pitching out of the bullpen.

Trade Bait: Kazmir, Maeda, McCarthy, Wood

Kazmir could opt-out, but that seems highly unlikely, no matter what a New York Post columnist might suggest. As such, Kazmir, along with McCarthy, are obvious candidates to be moved. If the Dodgers ate enough money on both contracts (Kazmir owed roughly $32 million, McCarthy roughly $20 million), teams could take a chance on these high-risk, high-reward options. And if you’ve looked at the free agent starting pitcher market for this winter, you might see how that option could be appealing to teams.

But what about Maeda? Hear me out. Maeda has seven years left on his incentive-laden deal, but the only trade provision in his contract is he gets a $1 million bonus every time he’s traded. Given the current market for starting pitchers, the Dodgers could at least gauge the interest in Maeda and see if dealing him would be prudent with the knowledge that his bargain deal could be more valuable to a smaller market club than the Dodgers. I don’t think it’s terribly likely, but you can’t rule anything out with this front office, and it would make some sense to at least explore the option.

Wood is an interesting case. He didn’t start off that well, before really turning it on … and then he underwent elbow surgery after an injury suffered swinging a bat (your 2016 Dodgers, everybody). Still, Wood technically had two cases of arm soreness (one in Spring Training, one in the middle of the season) prior to the surgery, and both are typically viewed as precursors to Tommy John surgery (which Wood has already had). So that’s not great, but he was really good (3.18 FIP, 18.0 K-BB%) when he was healthy, and then he returned late in the season as a reliever which would presumably mean he was arm was fine. Normally, this would be a guy the Dodgers would want to hold onto, but if they’re concerned about his long-term health, they could look to move him in a package deal. And that brings up another issue: his trade value. A 26-year-old with a 3.32 career FIP making $2 million looks like a hell of a deal, but the elbow concerns appear real and that could kill a good portion of his trade value.

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With 10 starting pitchers under contract, it’s going to be tough to upgrade without making moves, and honestly, there aren’t a ton of options the Dodgers could realistically target. But here are some guys they’ve been connected to in the past, and even already had on the team before.

Chris Archer

Rumors were swirling at the trade deadline the Dodgers were after Archer (and Matt Moore), but that always seemed more like an offseason move rather than a trade deadline move. Archer won’t come cheap, despite having a somewhat down 2016 season (by his standards): 4.02 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 19.5 K-BB%. His contract is still incredibly team-friendly and is the biggest reason he’ll be hard to acquire.

  • 2017: $4.8 Million
  • 2018: $6.2 Million
  • 2019: $7.5 Million
  • 2020: $9 Million Team Option ($1.8 Million Buyout)
  • 2021: $11 Million Team Option

Teams just don’t give away contracts like that, so if the Dodgers want to end up with Archer, it’s going to cost many arms and legs.

Rich Hill

The Dodgers prize trade deadline acquisition, Hill performed quite well with the team even if he made just six starts because of a recurring blister on his middle finger. They liked him so much that they traded three really good pitching prospects for him, and word is they would have signed him last winter if Brett Anderson had declined the qualifying offer. The Dodgers ended up getting six starts of 1.83 ERA, 2.07 FIP, 26.6 K-BB% out of him, and another 13 innings in the postseason (3.46 ERA, 19 strikeouts), including a masterful scoreless six-inning outing against the Cubs in Game 3 of the NLCS.

Hill was excellent and is easily the best free agent starter available this winter. He’s also going into his age-37 season, so that should minimize the number of years he gets. Still, a 3-year, $50-60 million deal wouldn’t be surprising — and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Dodgers gave him that deal.

Those are really the two most realistic options to add to the rotation (and even Archer seems like a pipe dream). If you look at the 2017-18 free agent starters, there are some interesting names: Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Yu Darvish, Danny Duffy, Marco Estrada, Michael Pineda, Tyson Ross, Chris Tillman. There are also some players who can opt-out, effectively making them 1-year rentals: Wei-Yin Chen, Johnny Cueto, Masahiro Tanaka. We can rule out guys like Arrieta, Cueto, Darvish, Ross, Tillman and Tanaka getting moved this winter — their teams have no reason to do so (and Ross is probably too injured to have much trade value). That leaves guys like Chen, Cobb, Duffy, Estrada and Pineda as possible trade candidates.

The Marlins are always looking to cut payroll, but Chen isn’t actually that good. Cobb is a member of the Rays and is coming off a season in which he threw just 22 innings on his way back from Tommy John Surgery. Duffy had a great breakout season with the Royals, and he might be an option because they’re a team that might need to retool to remain competitive, and dealing Duffy with a full year left on his deal could bring quite the return. The Blue Jays had another somewhat disappointing playoff run that ended in the ALCS, and they might lose Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and could be in for a bit of a rebuild. Cashing in on Estrada now might be something they could do. Finally, the Yankees have Pineda, who had a low-key solid season. I’m not sure they’d look to retain him after the 2017 season, so they could continue replenishing their farm system with a new wave of prospects by selling somewhat high on Pineda.

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If the Dodgers didn’t do anything to their rotation ahead of the 2017 season, they’d still be pretty solid. As long as Kershaw’s back is okay, they’re always going to have a strong rotation. Urias looks poised to take a big step forward in his age-20 season, while Wood could be a really strong No. 3 starter. If that makes Maeda the No. 4 when it’s all said and done, that’s a solid 1-4. Despite that, I’d be surprised if they don’t do anything because they still need somebody to help Kershaw at the top of the rotation. The easiest thing is to re-sign Hill while trading one of the pricey veterans, but I’d absolutely adore getting Archer in Dodger Blue.

Expect a lot of rosterbation between now and the Winter Meetings (Dec. 4 through 8). After all, that’s the fun of the off-season, right?

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.